SPORTS HEADLINES

Baseball: Hot start – Dragons begin district 3-0

By Reece Waddell | Published Wednesday, March 21, 2018
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Will to Win

WILL TO WIN – Chico coach Brian McBeth addresses his team before Monday’s practice. The Dragons have won seven straight games and have come from behind in each of their district wins. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

The Chico Dragons were staring at a 10-run deficit in the fourth inning last week against District 10-2A rival Lindsay.

Jerod Blanks had given up nine runs in two innings of work, walking six batters in the process. Although they trailed 13-3, the Dragons never got down on themselves.

Instead, they asked a simple question in the dugout: does everyone have their plastic animal inside their hat?

“Sophomore year we had these little toy dinosaurs, but this year we’ve got farm animals that we keep in our hat,” Blanks said. “I’ve got a pig in here. We’ve all got them in our hats.”

The ritual worked – at least as far as Chico is concerned.

The Dragons fought all the way back against the Knights, scoring seven runs in the seventh inning to get the win, 16-15. At the time, it was the Chico’s sixth consecutive victory. Since then, they have extended their winning streak to seven and went for their eighth straight win Tuesday night against rival Alvord.

The Dragons are 8-1 overall on the season and a perfect 3-0 in district.

“[We’ve] just been finding a way to win,” said Chico coach Brian McBeth. “We’ve been down in almost every game we played. All of our district games have been comeback wins. It’s kind of a motto we go over all the time – just find a way.”

McBeth has preached getting on base, whether it is drawing a walk or taking a pitch. As a team, the Dragons are hitting .433 with an on-base percentage of .578. Chico has drawn 54 walks through nine games and is averaging 10.8 runs per contest.

Blanks is Chico’s leadoff man and sets the tone at the top of the order. He sports a .630 batting average to go along with 14 RBIs and 16 runs scored.

“He almost gets on base every time,” said senior Bailey Umphress of Blanks. “If he doesn’t, he works that pitcher.

“[Getting on base] is important. None of us are really power hitters. We’re all contact [hitters]. When Jerod comes in there and hits the ball, it’s just a tone-setter.”

In addition to getting runners aboard, McBeth has also emphasized the importance of baserunning. Chico spent the first 15 minutes of practice Monday working on a baserunning drill. The Dragons have stolen 64 bases this year, tormenting teams on the base path.

As district play heats up, McBeth knows Chico will have to clean up its defense and pitching. The Dragons have committed 20 errors on the year and have a team ERA of 5.87.

Chico narrowly missed out on the playoffs last season, finishing sixth in District 10-2A with a 5-9 mark in league play. But the Dragons have no intention on missing the postseason again this year.

“At any given [moment] we have a chance to win a ballgame no matter what [the score] is,” McBeth said.

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